23 January 2008

(BCHR/IFEX) - BCHR has recently learned that the Ministry of Islamic Affairs (MIA) has once again refused to approve distribution of the novel "Omar . . . A Martyr" by Bahraini novelist Abdulla Khalifa. Omar Ibn Al-Khattab was the second Islamic Caliph after the prophet Mohammed and is regarded by Muslims as one of the "four righteously guided Caliphs".

The Ministry of Information (MI) asked the MIA to evaluate the novel from a Sharia' (religious) point of view. MIA did not approve the novel, alleging that it defames a religious figure in a manner "fomenting sectarianism" in the society. This is very much disputed by those who have managed to read the novel.

BCHR's source indicated that the MIA's recommendation to ban distribution of the novel was based on a sentence reading that "Ibn Al-Khattab wobbled", which was considered libel to the second Caliph.

This is the second novel by Khalifa banned in Bahrain. His earlier novel, "Husain's Head", was put forward for publication inside Bahrain, but the MI responded by prohibiting its publication. This attitude has forced writers to seek publication outside Bahrain, as Khalifa did for his latest novel.

BCHR expresses concern over persistent censorship of all forms of freedom of expression in Bahrain, including the publication of books and novels. An earlier campaign by the international and local communities sought approval for publication of a history book, "Memory Exploitations: In a Pluralistic Society, Saddled with History", by Dr Nader Kathem. It is a collection of a series of historical articles published by the author in the local press.

RECOMMENDED ACTION:

Send appeals to authorities: - calling on them to lift restrictions on all forms of freedom of expression by academics, researchers, novelists and journalists - noting that this will require amendments to Press and Publication Decree code no 47 of 2002 to ensure its compliance with international declarations and covenants

APPEALS TO:

His Highness Shaikh Hamad Bin Isa Al-Khalifa King of Bahrain Riffa, Bahrain

His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman Al-Khalifa Cabinet Prime Minister Fax: +97 3 1 721 1363

Please copy appeals to the source if possible.

For further information contact Nabeel Rajab, Vice-President, BCHR, Manama, Bahrain, tel: +973 3963 3399 / 3940 0720, fax: +973 1779 5170, e-mail: nabeel.rajab@bahrainrights.org, info@bahrainrights.org, Internet: http://www.bahrainrights.org

The information contained in this alert is the sole responsibility of BCHR. In citing this material for broadcast or publication, please credit BCHR.